Have you ever been through an ordeal that has left you feeling paranoid or vulnerable? Perhaps your home was robbed, have gone through a divorce or it was a case of lost trust where a friend or authority figure you relied on let you down with a back-stab you never saw coming. Perhaps the situation was compounded further; where you suspected betrayal, but would not find out about it for months. How would you feel about trusting anyone again?
Before I talk about mistrust, however, I want to make clear that this is a fictional encounter with the objective of highlighting the protagonist of a story in the works. The big news at the time, at least within the story’s opening premise, was the kidnapping of three U.S. diplomats in Saudi Arabia – two women and one man. All three escaped after several days, although the man, an ex-Marine, did not survive. Don’t worry, I’m giving little away, as this is all just within the first several pages. As the three made their getaway, he apparently got cut down in gunfire from the militants attempting to stop them.
The setting of this fictional encounter takes me to a Chicago flight connection straight out of the story in the late summer of ’96. It was about a month following the supposed hostage crisis, so it would have taken a few minutes to recognize one of the women waiting for the same flight as I would have been sitting, waiting for my connection to New York. Her name was Carolyn Cassidy and, despite a few empty seats still available in the departure waiting area, she was standing along one of the walls reading a book.
Frankly, I remember being surprised that, despite having her face plastered across the networks for almost a week not too long before, no one else in the terminal appeared to spot her.
We still had about 15 minutes before the boarding began, so I lifted myself from my seat, grabbed my suitcase and, perhaps not so casually, found my way over to where she was standing.
“Cassidy, right?” I said to her, raising my voice to counter a flight departure announcement; still not absolutely sure it truly was her.
She smiled with a degree of uncertainty in her eyes. “Yes, Carolyn Cassidy. Do I know you? Are you with the press?”
“No,” I replied almost apologetically. After all, I figured, she probably had people approaching her rather frequently over the past few weeks with idiotic comments and questions. “No, you don’t know me and no, I’m not a journalist.” At least I was not at the time.
I did not want to admit it at that point, but I am afraid it was obvious that I was at least a little nervous about approaching a celebrity.
“I’m sorry, she said, “I don’t seem to have a pen handy.”
“Oh no,” I blushed, “I’m not looking for an autograph.”
“So you are a journalist,” she concluded.
I shook my head. “Absolutely not.”
“But you do have questions?”
“I think there are a lot questions about what you’ve gone through during and after your escape,” I replied with a wind of courage, “but no one seems to be giving any answers.”
“Then why such an interest?” She asked with a vibrating tension in her voice and an anxiety in her eyes. Did I say “anxiety?” I think it was more like paranoia, even though she was clearly attempting to mask it with a valorous façade.
“Well,” I took a deep calming breath, “there’s been little detail about your hostage drama and even less about the escape.”
“Do you…” she began, but then hesitated for a few seconds. “Do you remember Tom Hamill?”
“Sure,” I answered. “He’s the one who died.”
For a moment, she just stood there, trying to hold back a tear building in her eye, but quickly recovered. “A horrible, horrible tragedy for us at the embassy and for his family,” she acknowledged.
“He was shot in the leg,” I further recalled.
“Barely a flesh wound,” she insisted. “In fact, she almost reluctantly added, “I’m headed to New York for his funeral now.”
“So, how did he…”
“How did he die?” she said, completing my question, as though she had heard it many times before. Again, she hesitated briefly before proceeding with a tone of caution. “I’ve asked myself that many times. But, as the embassy report stated, Tom was killed from the bullet wound in his leg.”
To this day, I don’t believe she said that with a straight face, as if she did not believe it herself. In fact, it was as if she had had practiced the line to deliver to members of the public, like me, in an attempt to make the state department authorities believe she believed it.
It was at that point, after 10 or 15 seconds of silence, that it was obvious – frighteningly obvious – that she appeared withdrawn. It was oh so obvious that despite our little chat, she did not trust me and throughout our little chat, seemed to eye all the other passengers with a degree of suspicion. I could see it in her eyes that she felt uncertain, almost like a computer stalled by a programming error.
It was a few years later, when I had a chance to talk to her once more (in another fictional encounter) that I found out the true terror she was experiencing that day at the airport. After all, she had recently survived a kidnapping, the escape and the death of an embassy colleague; all of which, at the time, had her walking around day-to-day with the stress of more unanswered questions than just how a minor leg wound could kill an ex-Marine. It was, the more I thought about it afterward, that at that point, she did not believe anything the authorities were telling her and with good reason.
I’m out of time now, but perhaps in the coming weeks I’ll fill in some of the blanks of those lingering questions and follow up on what I found out when I met up with her again.
In this fictional encounter, the author engages with the protagonist from his upcoming international adventures of Carolyn Cassidy.